AFC Ann Arbor is making the National Premier Soccer League Great Lakes Conference Division a one-team race, grabbing a second-half goal to defeat Detroit City FC, 1-0, Sunday at Keyworth Stadium.
The victory gives the first-place Mighty Oak (6-0-2, 20 points) a 10-point lead over rival Le Rouge (3-2-1, 10 points), which suffered its first home defeat this season before 5,870 spectators. Ann Arbor has a four-point edge over Grand Rapids (5-1-1, 16 points), which roared back to knock off Kalamazoo, 3-2, Sunday to vault into second place.
Chris Odhiambo's goal in the 54th minute was all Ann Arbor needed as DCFC found itself bogged down in the midfield with the visitor's relentless defending.
"Obviously, it's a great result for us, and keeps us in control of our own destiny," Ann Arbor coach Eric Rudland said. "We still have a lot of important matches coming up to close out the season, but we still are in a position to achieve our objectives."
Ann Arbor capitalized on the counter-attack when forward Azaad Liadi sent a low cross from the right flank, which the Keynan midfielder redirected past DCFC goalie Fernando Pina with a spinning shot. Pina got both hands to Odhiambo's low drive but it still squirted through.
At the other end, Le Rouge's best chances went for naught.
Shawn Lawson, who came on as a second-half sub, had a shot from six yards out blocked by lunging Ann Arbor defender Stanley Okumu in stoppage time.
Eight minutes before, Trevor Amman couldn't latch onto a pass from Lawson to the far post and a gaping net.
"I don't think we played that poorly," said DCFC coach Ben Pirmann in a postgame interview on the FoxSports Detroit live stream. "Obviously, they are a good team. They do a lot of good things. They make life very very difficult underneath and we didn't have a lot of things go our way. ... You have to score and you can't give up the soft goal we gave up. We have to play better over 90 minutes."
Ann Arbor dominated possession in a highly entertaining first half, which was highlighted by Mighty Oak defender Jack Cawley's audacious attempt from beyond midfield.
The goal-bound delivery required a back-pedaling Pina to use both hands to prevent the ball from landing in the net.
Jake Rudel made the start up front for Le Rouge and factored early, slotting a through ball to Danny Deakin whose left-footed drive was deftly headed away by Okumu in the 26th minute. The Mighty Oak player had to be examined for a possible concussion afterward from taking the blast directly to the head.
Deakin also hammered a loose ball from a goal-mouth scramble from about six yards out during first-half stoppage time, which goalkeeper Mike Novotny parried away to keep the match scoreless.
Ann Arbor has conceded only two goals in eight NPSL matches this season.